Claire Alexander's blog
Wow I can’t believe that I am in my last few days. The past 3 and a half weeks have gone unbelievably fast. I’ve enjoyed my daily commute with Elliot from Gaborone to Mochudi (about 40 minutes) or Phakalane (about 20 minutes depending on traffic). Whether he was navigating the cows, donkeys, goats or horses that roam either side of the highway looking for food because the rains are very late coming, or analysing the various housing options, there was always lots to discuss. Elliott is planning to build a house and has strong opinions about what he likes. I am now familiar with the many different styles of houses, roof and tile options.
Today is my last day at Stepping Stones in Mochudi and it is very quiet because all the kids and many of the staff are away at camp for the week. The kids were so excited and had been busy all last week practicing their skit on HIV and AIDS awareness that they will perform at the camp. Stepping Stones is a happy place and I often forget the traumas that many of these kids have experienced and live with daily. Which is exactly the goal of Stepping Stones - to allow them a chance to feel safe and happy and just be kids, at least while they are at Stepping Stones. It is a unique NGO in Botswana. Their broad based approach addresses the needs of the individual child, with life skills, education support and counselling AND they address the needs of the family or caregiver so that the child’s home life might improve as well. And they don’t stop there. They also work towards societal change with research and advocacy of issues like sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Their holistic approach is truly impressive. Stepping Stones is gaining recognition as a leader and has been instrumental in identifying and introducing to Botswana innovative programs from around the world. They are effective at establishing partnerships and are respected by funders as responsible and highly accountable. What they really need though is to secure long term funding to allow for multi-year planning.
My role here has been to work with staff helping to improve communication and conflict resolution. I have done a lot of listening and hope that I have made some impact. The feedback has been positive and several people have said already it has helped them. I think that the issues are not as big and they are not as far apart as they think. I have been impressed with how open they were all willing to be. There was a definite need for communication. Too many assumptions were being made and there was too little confidence to share. I also have tried to build on the framework that Stephanie created 6 months ago to move forward the production of the first Annual Report.
There is definitely a feeling of things winding down for the holidays both at Stepping Stones in Gaborone. I am putting the finishing touches on my reports and will debrief with Lisa tomorrow. It has been a huge honour working here but I know that I have only just begun to understand all the issues that the youth in Botswana face.
HIV AIDS and sexual abuse are two of the major issues and there are a lot of resources going towards gender base violence. On the surface, Botswana has so many positives but scratch beneath the surface just a little and you see a society struggling to find a balance with rapid growth and a break down in the family structure. There is still so much to try to understand.
It has been an honour working here and I am sad to know that the funding for WUSC in Botswana is ending. I hope that they will be able to find alternative ways to continue to bring volunteers as part of the Leave for Change program. They have the infrastructure to be able to properly support short term volunteers. My experience here has been amazing. I was asked the other day if I drank the tap water in Botswana and when I responded yes was told – well that means you’ll be back. I hope so!
WUSC dinner with the Canadian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency Lisa Staedelbauer (far right) or Lisa. She was lovely and definitely didn't stand on ceremony.
WUSC Botswana volunteers with Canadian Ambassador, Her Excellency Lisa Staedelbauer
She had an interesting insider perspective on Zimbabwe having lived there for a number of years. We also remarked on the mosaic of Canadians at the dinner. Pretty diverse and from all corners of the country. It was a nice opportunity to connect with the others and it was a fun night out. Thank you Canadian taxpayers for treating us!
Only one week left. Time is flying by.
I'm having an amazing time. I met up with Saveena, a fellow U of G Leave for Change participant, for dinner her second night. She was delayed on her flight out the next day so we reconnected again the following morning at the airport when she eventually made her way to her mandate in the north. I think she spent about 12 hours at the airport trying to get out the previous day. Air Botswana was in a bit of a mess recovering from technical issues and a big storm that grounded all planes the evening before.
I was delayed for 6 hours but eventually reached Cape Town and had a wonderful time with my nieces. I had a very productive time at the airport where I met a few other WUSC and Leave for Change folks that were also heading away for the weekend. I also met a Canadian doing a postdoc in Pretoria who knows Jacqueline Murray from UBC, was on the WUSC board with David Hornsby, one of our students now teaching at Wits University in Johannesburg and, after a little more conversation, we discovered we also went to the same high school in Vancouver! Again, I need to remark its a very small world.
I completed my 2-hour training on communications, team building and conflict resolution today (Monday) at Stepping Stones. Thanks to Linda Watt for her support developing the training session. It all went well.
Staff and volunteers at Stepping Stone Internationals who participated in the training session
The time is going so fast. I probably could have done 5 weeks but my job and children might have found that too long. For me though, it's flying by.
Has it really only been a few days? What an amazing first week.
I spent one day at WUSC for orientation and cultural training and my second day with Lisa, the executive director and founder of Stepping Stones at her home/office.
The level of activity and coming and going of staff and interns (and all around the dining room table) was amazing. Lisa has built a community at Stepping Stones that is absolutely unique. The focus is on orphaned and vulnerable youth (12-18) and their program is experiential and play based which is completely novel in this country but is gaining support because they are showing that what they are doing works. They provide psychosocial support as many of the children have been abused and/or abandoned, they teach them life skills, leadership skills and they support them in the community with things like the grannies club as that is who is often left to raise these children.
The last two days I have spent at Stepping Stones interviewing the staff as my mandate is to provide support with their internal communications, a most impressive team. I also had the opportunity to sit in on some of the sessions with the kids and my favorite so far has been the group assignment to develop a dance routine. They had to support each other to bring everyone up to the same standard. Not only was the dancing and singing fabulous but the laughter and encouragement they gave each other was mesmerizing. It was a high energy and happy room of children being children. I couldn’t believe these were the same kids described as previously without hope.
What an incredible place Stepping Stone is.
I left Toronto at midnight Saturday and I arrived in Gaborone noon Monday, November 17 feeling surprisingly bright. I had time in Heathrow for a nap, do a few emails and stretch my legs. I also had a few hours in Johannesburg which was surprisingly cool - only 11 degrees. I discovered later that my brother-in-law was in the airport at the exact same time. Small world. Too bad we didn’t bump into each other. I even saw the line for his flight to Malawi but of course I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew.
Botswana is a good deal warmer at 22 degrees but still cooler than I anticipated and with a breeze. All my agonising over what to bring seems to have worked out. I think the idea of light layers will probably serve me well.
I was met at the airport by Mmapaseke who drove me to the home where I am staying in Gaborone. The homeowner KT is away on business, home tomorrow, so I am on my own tonight. I was trained well by Sthabiso, who works here, on how to open the electric gate, all the door locks, where the light switches are and I even managed to walk to the Spar (local grocery store) to buy a few supplies and more importantly find my way back. I feel very welcome and comfortable.
I am very thankful to have Stephanie’s report to read from her work here this past summer. There is so much information to digest.
I met with Chile from WUSC for dinner and below is what I learned about Botswana. There was probably more but jet lag then set in.
- The three main industries are mining, tourism and farming (primarily cattle) and though the GDP appears high much of this wealth doesn’t reach individuals. These industries either rely heavily on technology so employ few or wages are low.
- It's tough to hold on to international funding as the country, on the surface, appears wealthy
- Infrastructure in country excellent but 80% of wealth held by 20% of the pople
- HIV and AIDS is a major issue. The government invested heavily in treating (all drugs are free) but there is still much to be done in changing behaviour to reduce occurence.
- Botswanans do not tend to immigrate to seek employment. If they leave to study almost all return (maybe 95%).
- Crime in the country is relatively low – policemen don’t carry guns – capital punishment perhaps deters immigrant crime
- Botswana is one of the only African countries that has had no political strife, civil war, etc. It's very stable.
- Gained independence in 1966 and was a very poor country but after indpendence diamonds were discovered which led to very rapid growth and wealth.
- The government invested in education (which was previously nonexistent), health and infrastructure but rapid growth together with rapid spread of HIV & AIDS has contributed to a break down of the family structure.